Sheriff predicts further cuts to jail, patrols

EUGENE, Ore. - The sheriff predicts having to cut another 50 beds from the local jail and reduce the number of deputies on patrol in Lane County to a dozen.

Sheriff Tom Turner said his office expects to have to cut another $2 million in the next fiscal year.

"Fewer jail beds and non-existent patrol response for rural Lane County means more defendants and offenders on our streets," Sheriff Turner said.

Right now, rural patrols are down to 16 to 18 hours per day, and local jail beds are down to 135.

For 2013-14, the sheriff is set to take a $2 million cut, down to a $55 million.

Officials said it's because the county tax base is too low and several pots of federal cash are expected to run dry.

If the sheriff doesn't find new sources of revenue, the jail gets cut to 83 beds next year. The number of patrol deputies would drop from 15 to 12.

The year after that the sheriff would cut the jail to 26 local beds, cut rural patrols entirely and reduce the investigative unit to one detective.

"If you're not keeping the people charged with homicide in custody, what are you going to do with the rapists? We've got plenty of those," said District Attorney Alex Gardner.

County officials say what is needed is more money.

But how much more of a tax bill can residents take in a tepid economy?

Lane County Commission Chair Sid Leiken said the Board of Commissioners will conduct a public survey to ask voters whether they would support a levy to fund law enforcement. He said a decision is likely by February on whether to put a law enforcement tax measure on the May ballot.

"It's the citizens. What are they willing to pay, if at all?" Leiken said. "And that's something, that's why we've decided to do this additional survey."

The sheriff's office has shrunk the jail and whittled away at its staff as timber revenues and the federal payments that replaced them have dwindled.

The federal government - the largest landowner in Lane County - pays no property taxes on forests, wilderness and rangelands. Instead, counties and schools have traditionally shared in the revenues dervied from timber sales and other economic activity on public lands managed by the federal government.